For International Dog Day, we thought we’d take a look at French dog breeds, and a few Belgian ones, that you might not know are French and some that you might think are but in fact aren’t. Do you know your French dog breeds and your Belgian dog breeds?
French and Belgian Dog Breeds
Basset Hound (“Basset” in French)
Basset comes from the French word for low “bas” and the breed is thought to be a descendant of the Belgian St Hubert’s Hound breed. The first known mention of Basset hounds was in a 1585 text.
As with many of the breeds in this article, the basset was popular with royalty. In particular, with Emperor Napoleon III (r. 1852–1870). An exhibition of bronze sculptures of Napoleon III’s basset hounds was held at the Paris Salon in 1853. They went on to gain international attention at the first exhibition of dogs in Paris in 1863.
Bloodhounds are said to originate with St Hubert in 7th century Belgium. The dogs are often still referred to as Saint Huberts (Chien de St Hubert) in France and Belgium today but bloodhounds are a different breed thought to have descended from the Saint Huberts.
From about 1200, Abbey of St Hubert monks annually sent several pairs of black hounds as a gift to the King of France. That tradition followed for a long time. However, they were not always highly regarded by the royals. Charles Charles IX of France 1550-74, for example found that St Huberts were not helpful in shortening the life of hunted animals.
Great Pyrenees / Pyrenean Mountain Dog
Le Grande Chien des Montagnes /le chien des Pyrénées
The Pyrenean Mountains form the border between France, Spain and Andorra but this breed is 100% French. King Louis XIV even made the Great Pyrenees the ‘Royal Dog of France’ during his reign!
The Great Pryenees was believed to have the strength of two men and they were put to guarding the Chateau of Lourdes.
The Griffon breed originated in Belgium and there is a variety of it called the Brussels Griffon. In the 1870s, Henritetta Maria, Queen of Belgium was a fan of the Griffon. Her royal approval led to the popularity of the breed among the queen’s courtiers.
In Belgium, there are three types:
- Petit Brabancon, which is smooth-coated;
- Brussels Griffon, which has a rough red coat; and
- Belgian Griffon, which has a rough coat that can be any colour other than red.
There are also French variations of the breed many of which are from the Vendée region:
- Briquet Griffon Vendéen,
- Grand Griffon Vendéen ; and
- Petit Basset Griffon Vendéen (PBGV for short).
Other related French Griffon breeds include:
- Griffon Fauve de Bretagne,
- Griffon Bleu de Gascogne ; and
- Griffon Nivernais.
Dog Breeds that aren’t actually French
Alsatian or German shepherd
Apparently German Shepherds and Alsatians are actually just different names for the same breed! It was named German Shepherd by the Germans but because European countries didn’t want to associate themselves with Germany during WWII, it was renamed the Alsatian but the breed definitely had its origins in Germany, not Alsace or any other part of France.
The name is French but this is a breed with its origins in Spain where they were used as sailing dogs and occasionally as herding dogs. The breed is also sometimes called “Tenerife”, in a nod to its Spanish origins. The French may have taken them away from their work duties and turned them into lapdogs but they were originally Spanish.
Again, this was a breed popular with French nobility both during the Renaissance under Francis I (1515–1547), and also in the court of Henry III (1574–1589). By the late 19th century, Bichon Frisé became popular with the commoners, when it was seen running the streets, accompanying the organ grinders of Barbary, leading the blind, and doing tricks in circuses and fairs.
They might have the word French in their name but these Frenchies may not be French at all!
It is claimed that they were bred in England to be a miniature British bulldog and used as lap warmers by lace makers while they worked and that when the lace industry moved to France, the dogs went with it. When these lace workers and their dogs arrived in France, the French wanted a dog just like it for themselves and the dogs seen as defective by the British were sent over to France.
But another origin story is that the dogs are the only breed to have originated in Paris but little other information is provided to back up this claim.
French poodle (caniche)
Apart from a poodle bred in France, there isn’t actually anything specifically French about the poodle and the French poodle is in fact the same as any other poodle.
The name “Poodle” is derived from the German words “pudel” or “pudelin,” meaning “to splash in the water.” In France, poodles are called “caniche”, which is French for “duck dog.”
King Henry III was a big fan of the poodle. It was a dog kept by the upper classes until the 20th century before becoming a dog for the masses.
While the name is French (meaning butterfly), it isn’t clear where the Papillion was originally bred. It is found in 16th century Italian art. The Papillion, French word for butterfly is still officially referred to as the Epagneul Nain (ENC) in non-English-speaking countries.
Papillion x Marie Antoinette
Marie Antoinette is said to have walked to the guillotine clutching her small dog, Coco, under her arm but there is no conclusive evidence that she did. Regardless of whether she did or didn’t, we know that Coco survived the French Revolution, lived in a building called Papillon House in Paris and lived until she was 22 when she was buried in the gardens of the Hôtel de Seignelay—just a short walk from where Marie Antoinette was beheaded. A small square headstone still marks where the dog was laid to rest.
What’s your favourite French dog breed? How are you celebrating International Dog Day?
To find out about things happening this month (virtually and in person), take a look at our What’s on in August 2021? French related events in Australia article.